As Pakatan forks, can PKR and DAP take Putrajaya without PAS?

PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli says should PAS decide to leave PR, Malaysia’s oldest opposition party would face an equally challenging task of regaining its own support base. — Picture by Choo Choy May
PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli says should PAS decide to leave PR, Malaysia’s oldest opposition party would face an equally challenging task of regaining its own support base. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 30 ― DAP and PKR leaders have admitted that without PAS, Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) hope of capturing Putrajaya will recede further, as the Islamist party holds the key to unlocking crucial votes from Malaysia’s Malay heartland.

Although PAS leaders have brushed off talk of a possible split in the six-year-old pact, the Selangor mentri besar crisis had exposed deep fissures between the Kelantan-born party and its PR allies.

PAS’s firm refusal to endorse Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail had put it on a collision course with both PKR and DAP, and raised doubt on whether the Islamist party will remain in PR or eventually opt out.

“If that is the case we can’t achieve our aim of capturing Putrajaya in the near future… not till after two more general elections, at least,” said PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli.

The former PKR strategist noted that although the federal opposition pact had succeeded, to some extent, in steering voters to pledge support for its issue-based policies in the last federal polls, there are still large pockets of the society that identify better with a race-based cause.

“The Malay psyche is that PAS and Umno represent the Malay agenda and both are considered a Malay-based party,” he told Malay Mail Online.

Despite having bagged more than 50 per cent of the total votes cast in last year’s general election, PR only retained 89 parliamentary seats while a bulk of the Malay and Bumiputera-dominated rural constituencies, including those in Sabah and Sarawak, were lost to BN.

Still, Rafizi said, should PAS decide to leave PR, Malaysia’s oldest opposition party would face an equally challenging task of regaining its own support base.

“PAS has always lost marginally… or some are by major vote differences against Umno but under Pakatan, a coalition that brought three parties with a common interest of getting rid of Umno, gave PAS a chance to defeat Umno.

“And any three-cornered fight will be disastrous in breaking up the votes and inadvertently Umno benefits,” the Pandan MP said.

DAP national publicity chief Tony Pua agreed with his PKR ally and admitted that if PAS parts ways with PR, it would put the pact’s Putrajaya dream further out of reach.

“It will be a steeper hill to climb than it already is,” said Pua in a text message to Malay Mail Online.

But, the Petaling Jaya Utara MP pointed out, if PAS stays in PR but continues to lean further right, as reflected in its just-concluded annual congress, achieving federal power may not happen anyway.

“Hence, Putrajaya will be unlikely regardless of whether PAS is in or out,” he said.

Selangor DAP vice-chairman Charles Santiago concurred, saying if PAS deviates from PR’s common policy framework, it would severely impact the party’s ties with PR, as well as the pact’s hope of capturing Putrajaya.

“I don’t think DAP will agree to religion is being used to organise a particular country or share the idea of an Islamic state, if PAS were to return to that objective,” said the Klang MP.

The senior PAS leadership had consistently stood apart from its PR allies in PKR’s intricate bid to replace Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim with Dr Wan Azizah as Selangor mentri besar ― before PKR deputy president Azmin Ali snagged the post ― leading to growing questions over its commitment to the pact and open calls for its exit.

Among others, some in PAS had argued that Dr Wan Azizah’s gender would render her incapable of shouldering the responsibilities of a mentri besar.

Their claim was immediately met with scathing criticism from DAP and PKR leaders, and women’s groups, who categorised the view as antiquated and misguided.

The situation grew more intractable when PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang unilaterally named three nominees for the MB post in accordance with the Sultan of Selangor’s request although PKR and DAP were adamant in naming only Dr Wan Azizah.

PAS had initially agreed on two names — Dr Wan Azizah and her deputy Azmin — but their list was later overtaken by Abdul Hadi’s choices for the post.

It was the state ruler who finally ended PR’s bickering over the coveted Selangor post, when he decided on Azmin for the job.

PKR stopped its lobbying for Dr Wan Azizah, and together with the DAP, declared their support for the Sultan’s pick. PAS naturally did the same.

In his speech during the swearing-in ceremony at the Klang palace last Tuesday, Azmin said he would give top priority to repairing the frayed ties within PR.

All three PR parties have eased up on their squabbles for the moment, but it remains to be seen if PAS, and Abdul Hadi in particular, is ready to mend ties with its partners.